Faith Matters: A job that matters: Bi-vocational ministry and the smaller church

  • Rev. Dr. Will Sencabaugh in the First Congregational Church of Shelburne. April 10, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Rev. Dr. Will Sencabaugh in the First Congregational Church of Shelburne, holding his minister’s robe and the hard hat he wears for his other job. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • First Congregational Church of Shelburne. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

First Congregational Church of Shelburne
Friday, April 13, 2018

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

I was visiting a parishioner in the hospital and she introduced me to her nurse, “This is my pastor. He’s all we can afford.” I am hoping what she meant was, “This is my pastor. We can’t afford to pay the financial package that a full time minister requires. Because he doesn’t work 40 hours for the church, he has another job as well.”

I am a bi-vocational pastor, which is just a fancy way of saying I have two jobs. This is a growing trend, particularly in areas where there are many smaller membership churches. This should not come as a surprise but fewer people are attending worship on Sunday mornings, and many churches are managing with a congregation that is aging, and quite frankly, getting tired.

A smaller-sized church can struggle trying to maintain a glorious building which was built in the heyday of the church-going public. The typical New England meeting-house with a spire that reaches toward the heavens is expensive to maintain. They usually support a weather beaten steeple and house an antique organ in constant need of repair.

I was called to the First Congregational Church of Shelburne almost seven years ago. My children were in high school and college expenses loomed. I needed another job to help make ends meet. I wanted another job that would not interfere with my vocation. I accepted a “temporary” third shift job in a warehouse. I had never worked in a warehouse — and the whole idea was far too scary.

My first night was intimidating. The building was huge. Men and women were driving by me on powered equipment that I didn’t even know existed. Product was stacked on pallets and lifted onto bright orange metal racking. Everyone else seemed to know what they were doing. It was overwhelming! I was a stranger in a strange land.

I love the idea of serving the time-clock. I punch in. I punch out. I don’t talk or think about the job when I walk out the door. In ministry, by contrast, there is no time-clock. A pastor’s job is never done. Once a sermon is in the books, you are at work on the next. You are perpetually planning services: weddings, funerals, worship. A parishioner shares their struggle with you. You pray over it. You don’t forget it — it stays with you.

Working in a warehouse has challenged me. The physical demands were difficult. There was the mental challenge of learning an entirely new trade. I had to overcome a fear of heights. Each weekend, and many days, I have to readjust my sleep schedule. I now have an appreciation for the time commitment of church members who work all day, and then settle in for a marathon budget meeting.

The smaller-sized church is no less important than a medium- or super-sized mega church. I believe all churches, small or large, are vital to the community because their ministry matters. In addition to spiritual support, all churches should be providing food, clothing and sanctuary from the struggles of the day. They all deserve clergy who are professional, compassionate and love serving God and their community. Some of the best clergy I have met are bi-vocational “part-time” pastors. Many work in education, social services and nonprofits. Some are writers and artists. Some have come to ministry as a second or third career and wish to pursue their vocation while maintaining their skilled occupation.

A parishioner doesn’t care what you are called. When you are at their bedside in the hospital and you are holding their hand offering a prayer — they don’t care how many hours you work. They don’t care that you wear a hard hat, harness and steel-toe shoes during the overnight hours. They only care that you are there for them — present with them — in that moment. For me, that’s the job that matters.

About First Congregational Church of Shelburne

The First Congregational Church of Shelburne, Mass., United Church of Christ, was founded in 1770. It is located at 21 Common Road, Shelburne (overlooking the Mohawk Trail). Worship services are at 10 a.m. on Sunday. All are welcome! It is a congregation that believes it is “God’s hands on Earth” and therefore has a strong missions program, serving the Shelburne community and beyond. It is a congregation that loves to sing, smile and serve. The First Congregational Church of Shelburne is the “heart of the community.”